REVIEW: USC Upstate Theatre Comes Full Circle with ‘Charlie Brown’

The cast of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC


Poor, poor Charlie Brown. This kid can never catch a break.

Except maybe recently at the USC Upstate Theatre’s first Covid indoor production You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, a revival two decades in the making.

Based on the iconic comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz with music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, Charlie Brown, which closed Sunday, marks the second production of this 1967 musical. The first time was exactly 20 years as the inaugural show in the then-new Performing Arts Center.

This play also marks the swan song for director and Associate Professor Rich Robinson, who will be retiring at the end of this season after 20 years at USC.

Quite engaging and staged with minimal set pieces: the ones we have come to expect from Charlie Brown via the comic strip and TV specials – Snoopy’s doghouse, Schroeder’s miniature piano, and Lucy’s Psychiatrist stand – Charlie Brown is an amalgam of vignettes from and songs featuring most of the characters we all grew up with – sans Peppermint Patty, Darcie, Franklin and Woodstock.

Kyle McIntyre tackles the title role as Charlie Brown in iconic yellow and black stripes. A confident actor and stellar baritone, McIntyre gives a memorable and emotional turn as the ordinary kid who is neither brilliant nor athletic and can’t even fly a kite in “The Kite.”

Amiya English is the bossy Lucy who shows her frisky side in a rousing display of affection in “Schroeder” and demands her nickel for listening to Charlie Brown’s woes in “The Doctor is In.”

Samantha Davis shines as Charlie’s younger sister Sally (great voice and demeanor), and Dexter Simmons (also the choreographer), who “plays” the haunting “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven while ignoring Lucy’s advances, sells his affinity for the composer in “Beethoven Day.”

And I heap special praise on Mikayla Pursell as Snoopy and Zachary Urban as Linus, blanket and all.

Pursell delivers physicality, agility, humor (that thing dogs do along the grass) and sound effects whether she is lounging atop her doghouse of in a one-woman (one-canine) Flying Ace in air battle against the Red Baron.

And Urban’s portrayal of a minor, two-dimensional character is a fully-developed persona replete with a walk (more of a shuffle), a voice, thumb-sucking, and in “My Blanket and Me,” a sound argument (a la Leo Bloom in The Producers) for retaining his cotton clutch. Bravo!

Stanley Wietrzychowski is music director and has compelled strong vocals from his ensemble (also Emerson Reed, Ava Weber, Mason Kelly, Abby Covington, and Ashlyn Whitfield) in the group numbers particularly the title song (kudos on the Peanuts dance) and the finale “Happiness.”

Other creative credits include Barry Whitfield as technical director, Zach Taylor as scenic designer, Bradley Roberts as Stage Manager, and Jennifer Latto as costume coordinator.

Unfortunately, this show has ended, but catch the company’s next production of Sweat, the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Lynn Nottage, directed by Lee Neibert November 18-21.

More info at uscupstate.edu/nowplaying.

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